Need advice on an open relationship

My girlfriend and I have been together in a long-distance relationship for three years. The relationship has been “open” for quite some time and we’re looking for a little advice/perspective on an issue that keeps popping up. Before I go into though, I want to make it very clear that neither of us have an issue with the other person seeing other people. That’s not in question. I even text and have gone for drinks with a few of her “boyfriends” so I’m really hoping I don’t get opinions like, “The problem is that you have an open relationship in the first place!”

So first of all, one of the “rules” of our open relationship is that we’re both a priority over any of the people we see. She comes before any of my girlfriends, and I come before any of her boyfriends. Second, another one of our rules is that anyone else we see has to know that we’re in a serious, long-term relationship. With that said, here’s the problem we’re having. She’s very sensitive to the feelings of others, and sometimes her attempts to be respectful of the feelings of her boyfriends ends up seeming very disrespectful and hurtful to me. For example, we talk on the phone every night before bed, even if it’s just a quick call to say goodnight and I love you. However, when one of her boyfriends is spending the night, she feels like we should skip this call. Here’s another example. She has pictures of me and of us together up at her house, and when one of her boyfriends comes over, she takes the pictures down. (To be fair, she also thinks that I should take down the pictures of her at my house when I have someone over, which I don’t do because I find it disrespectful to her).

From her perspective, she does these things in an attempt to be respectful to the feelings of her other boyfriends. In her own words, even though I’m her priority, these guys are still human beings with feelings that need to be respected. All of her boyfriends know that she has a serious, long-term boyfriend who takes priority, but at least one of them is very uncomfortable with the fact that he’s dating a girl who already has a boyfriend.

From my perspective, it feels as though these things are not only attempts to hide our relationship from her boyfriends, but are also decisions that make her boyfriend’s feelings a priority over mine. In other words, her attempts to be respectful of her boyfriend’s feelings come across as disrespectful to my feelings. I feel like if a guy is uncomfortable with the fact that she calls me before bed and has my pictures up, it’s his responsibility to either remove himself from the situation or learn to accept it.

So my question is, are my hurt feelings to things like this an over-reaction? Am I putting too much weight on a phone call before bed and pictures on the wall? Or is it reasonable to expect her to leave the pictures up and call me before bed, even if it makes her boyfriends uncomfortable?

I’m not poly/open relationship experienced myself, but it seems like “my slightly unreasonable boundary issues are fully respected” is kind of a fundamental rule for success.

In any case, and in any relationship, its not about the actions of the call and hiding the photos,it’s about whether she is taking your feelings into account. If you tell her “hey I know it seems wacky to you, but this is an important boundary to me” …whether is about how you squeeze the toothpaste, leave the toilet seat, all the way to how you sleep with other people, a partner should respect that. In a partnership both parties have to allow for the other side to have their particular things that seem kind of unreasonable but are important.

Just out of curiosity, who first brought up the whole “open relationship” idea in your relationship?

That’s kind of hard to pinpoint, really. It was sort a mutual discovery. One of those situations where I fantasize about “sharing” her with other guys and she fantasizes about being “shared” with other guys but we’re both too nervous to just come right out and tell the other person so we both sort of just dropped hints for a while until the revelation came that, “Hey, you want this too?! Awesome!”

You’re coming across a bit rigid and insecure on these points, in my view. I’m sorry; I’m not saying that to be mean but in an attempt to be helpful. You have all the priority you really need; she loves you, and you’re the one she always comes home to, as it were. I get why the things you’re talking about might rankle you, but I also see how she might feel like you are making her jump through some hoops essentially to prove her devotion.

Rituals are important, but ultimately they are just symbols. The underlying love and trust are what’s important, and sometimes being able to bend a bit can itself be a warm expression of that love. A nightly call can become a straitjacket sometimes in any LDR, even without poly considerations, and attachment shouldn’t be made to feel like duty. Perhaps you could see if a goodnight text every once in a while would be satisfactory.

As for pictures, keep in mind that her boyfriends are probably in territory that is somewhat uncharted for them, and I think it’s somewhat natural that at the outset of being with her, it might be hard to avoid the feeling that they’re doing something that amounts to cheating on you and that you would find hurtful. The important thing is that she’s being open and upfront with them about her relationship with you; then the removal of the pictures is just a symbolic gesture toward acclimating a boyfriend and getting him comfortable in a different sort of relationship. Perhaps ask her to consider leaving pictures of you in place more and more as a particular boyfriend becomes longer-term; in other words, let him get used to pictures of you after he’s had a chance to get used to the basic framework of being part of a poly group.

She’s not prioritizign their feelings over yours per se; she’s prioritizing the person in the room with her over the person in another state/country. It’s human nature/insticnt. I’m not saying she’s throwing you under the bus. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Just one of those things where no matter how she spins it for them she finds it really awkward, mood killing and even weird to have pictures of you up and talk to you on the phone as the two of them are about to fall asleep.

Totally understand! I really didn’t post here to see who’s right, but to get some outside perspective and I’m glad that’s what I’m getting. I think I am a bit insecure when it comes to rituals. I’m a very ritualistic person in my daily life and when something that’s usually constant changes, it can sometimes shake up my whole world. I wish I knew how to make them seem less important to me.

Is she doing these things to spare the feelings of her other boyfriends, or is she doing them to hide the fact that she’s in a relationship with you? That is, do these other boyfriends know that she’s in an open relationship with someone other than them?

I find it hard to believe you are really ok with the open relationship. It sounds to me that you are on logical grounds, but you certainly are getting your feelings hurt over something - that in the great scheme of things - is minor.

Now don’t get me wrong - I’m all for being and making another person a priority in your life, but your idea of what other guys should be comfortable with is a little bit unreasonable (IMHO). You seem to frame this as you both are in a sort of equal type open relationship - and seem to be implying that women are totally ok with you calling your girlfriend while they spend the night and have pictures openly displayed of her around the house.

Is this REALLY the case? I’m not suggesting you aren’t telling the truth, but has this actually happened - or is this what you intend to happen. I mention this as a listener of Dan Savage I have noticed that it appears that the guy in the situation like yours often has much, MUCH, MUCH greater problems finding women willing to go along with an open relationship than a girl does. And sometimes - even when it is brought up by the guy - feelings seem to get hurt when the guy finds his woman a little too successful in the open relationship game. I’ve found most women are NOT comfortable being the other woman - I don’t think most would want to meet your girlfriend nor would they want you calling them. Perhaps you have better skills/luck then the average guy - if so - give us some advice :slight_smile:

I have been the other guy in an “open relationship” - and there is no way in hell I would want to meet you or listen to her call you at night. It has nothing to do with not respecting you or your relationship - it just strikes me as weird. It’s already bad enough that I’ve been lucky to dodge jealous boyfriends/husbands - my relationship is with the woman - not the boyfriend/husband.

It seems to me you are unconsciously perhaps throwing up road blocks to her having a successful time at this. I kinda agree with you as far as the pictures go, but if she feels the same way about her pictures - it isn’t that she doesn’t respect your relationship - it’s that she wants to feel comfortable with her other relationships. The idea that you think that the only interpretation of you putting her picture away is that you find it disrespectful to her seems rigid and only put that way to try and make your point (she asked you to - you can’t honestly claim that you REALLY believe that). I mean I’m not saying you are being dishonest, but you have to realize - even if that is true - no one is going to believe you.

This type of stuff is tricky - it isn’t easy. You can try and make all the rules you want, but I think you need to be honest with yourself. I mean if she gets up and goes into the other room to talk - isn’t that sort of hiding the relationship? If she does stay in bed - what does that prove? Are you going to ask her how her day went? Do you really want to know?

Do you just expect her to have to go through guy after guy until you find one that just wants to have sex with her and doesn’t give a shit how she treats him - because it appears to you that he respects your relationship? You do realize that the difference between a guy who appears to respect your relationship under your rules - is much, MUCH, more likely to just be some guy that doesn’t give a shit about your girlfriend than it is to be some idealized version of a guy that “respects your relationship”?

Hey - I’m not trying to get on your case - it sounds like you are very open minded. Maybe all my assumptions are wrong, but was this symbolic stuff really THAT important to you before - or did it sort of grow in importance after this all started?

You can be open minded and still have feelings that cause you to revisit your decisions. It doesn’t make you a hypocrite to change your mind.

Good luck to you and your girlfriend. I hope you can make it work, but LDRs and open relationships are a can of worms and hard work - don’t feel like you are weak or something if they don’t end up being your thing.

I think, everything else aside, she needs to be more honest with these guys. Letting them enjoy the fantasy that they are the only one is just setting them up for heartbreak and pain later. It’s arguably exploiting them: she’s enjoying their short-term infatuation and devotion, and later, when they finally have to face that the relationship is never going to be what they convinced themselves it is, they will fall to pieces and while she may sympathize, her pain won’t be theirs–after all she will still have a solid emotional place where she belongs and is wanted.

Her behavior reminds me of a person who keeps booty-calling someone they know is in love with them, but thinks it’s okay because they never promised anything.


I guess the ideal would be if you could get yourself to a place where these little things honestly don’t bother you any more (or bother you so little that you can ignore it). However, at the end of the day, if you’re upset by this then you’re upset by this, and I don’t think you have any reason to apologize for that. You have every right to insist that your (illogical) anxieties and boundaries be respected. If you give her the “This Is Really Important to Me” talk and she won’t budge, then maybe yours shouldn’t be an open relationship.

Sounds like you’re trying to be a little bit pregnant; in the long run I would imagine you will be happier if you either shit or get off the pot.

Seems like risky business to me, but if it’s an open relationship you both want, actually she seems the most reasonable in how she is handling her other bf’s, with the phone calls and pictures; not you. But I don’t get this fantasy of guys wanting to share their gf’s with other guys. But send her my way, I’ll help fulfill it.

OP’s insecurity seems a bit out of bounds for an open relationship.

OP’s girlfriend’s boyfriend that is insecure about her having a long term boyfriend (the OP) seems like he’s just getting laid and would prefer to fantasize about her being “his” conquest, and not just sharing this chick.

But hey I’m a big fan of monogamy, so I’m not probably the best person to analyze.

Or, y’know, have sex.

Given the high level of commitment she’s showing to you in maintaining & enjoying your relationship, there’s still plenty of room below that to also show a certain level of commitment & respect to the people who are right there with her.

Totally agree–it’s what I was thinkng by “mood killing.”

Also think your post said alot of what I was trying to say but more eloquently. I can’t think of any concrete vanilla and non-problematic examples of people acting differently depending on who is physically there at the moment, but there are zillions of them. It’s not necessarily milktoasty, mean or duplicitous either, just a personal comfort.

Giving the situation the benefit of hte doubt, maybe she’s telling the guys “hey look, let’s go back to my place and get jiggy, but I gotta tell you this is for fun only–I’m in a LD relationship” (and to continue with the benefit of the doubt, she means it too). Many guys would be okay with teh Friends-with-benefits scenario but would be kinda squicked out to be going at it in front of the fireplace with a picture of the two of you on the mantle. That was actually one of the weird things about first getting into the lifestyle for us—flirting with a woman whose husband was at the same table. There are certain cultural things you just don’t do, and it took a bit of introspection to recognize wher the weirdness was coming from and to get over it. Maybe the guys she’s with are mildly okay with her story, but she doesn’t want to confront them with the situation or make them think she’s just cheating on you.

Or maybe it’s just her that feels awkward, where she tells them in earnest and means it, but there’s jsut something unsettling for her to be in the moment with you virtually in the room.
Bottom line is you gotta talk it out, not just share your feelings and get her to understand, but to really understand her’s. That’s the first rule of Swing Club—you and your partner must be on the same page (if you aren’t, you’ll end up in Fight Club, which I hear has a totally different set of rules). We don’t know anyone whose been in the lifestyle more than a few years where there wasn’t full communication and respect for others limits. I know swinging and poly are cousins, but there’s a lot of overlap (have you played with couples either from a dating site or lifestyle party? Were any of these issues there too?)

Feelings are weird. There’s always someone who says that just because it’s a bumpy road or you hit a snag that you’re not really open or the relationship isn’t working or something like that. Maybe so, but we don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a story or three of wierdness or awkwardness from their early days. Here’s one of ours: we’d been trying to quit smoking on and off for a couple years. We were maybe two or three months into a ‘quit’ phase when agitation levels are still kind of high. We’re on a date with this couple where he smoked but she didn’t (first date, just at a restaurant/bar). My wife smoked a few of his cigarettes that night and it really got to me. We had fun with them, but by the time we were driving home I had this back-of-the-mind and (at the time) baseless seething emotion. It didn’t make any sense, because we’d both bummed smokes from other people before (at the mall, in bars, etc.) and both fell off the wagon. But the emotional wires got crossed and bumming a smoke from him that night just felt like a violation of trust. We hashed it out and eventually laughed about it, but there it was for the short term—feelings are weird.
So, your feelings are normal about this, but that doesn’t mean you need to stick to your first impressions—if her rationale can assuage and speak to those feelings, so much the better (ie don’t just stick to your guns that she needs to do x, y, and z, but understand why you feel that way and just as importantly, why **she **feels that way). But if after hashing it all out it still makes you feel blue, then either the open part of your relationship isn’t working (good luck putting that gene back in the bootle) or the two of you can’t make an open relationship work (not that either of you can’t with someone else).

Again, this is giving you/the relationship the benefit of the doubt. You could just as well be another of her fuckbuddies that she is “scare quote” in a relationship with “scare quote”, but only the two of you can find out in the long run.

I agree.

Interesting phrasing. Think about what you wrote here. Your GF’s fuckbuddies don’t owe you anything, you’re not in a relationship with them. The entire idea of them having a “responsibility” towards you is laughable.

Its your GIRLFRIEND who has a responsibility towards you. But you’re placing your misdirected focus on the males who have nothing to do with you.

try this on for size: “I feel like if a guy is uncomfortable with the fact she calls me before bed, she should not have sex with him.”

I take it she does not agree with the above statement.

If I was about to pork a girl and I see pictures of her boyfriend I would be uncomfortable. It takes a real piece of shit to still do her while her bf is staring at him the whole time. I think she is being considerate quite frankly by taking down the pictures.

On the other hand, it’s gotta be really weird knowing that if she didn’t call you some other dude is plowing her…

My insight here is that if you want this girl to call you every night than what you seek is more than a long-distance, open relationship.